The Chaves County commissioners tour the Chaves County Detention Center Friday morning. The $15 million renovation project will increase the jail’s maximum capacity from 267 inmates to 400. The project is expected to be completed by August 2015. (Jeff Tucker Photo)
Segregating inmates from each other for their own protection and keeping the men and women separated is like a daily chess game, said Chaves County Adult Detention Center Administrator Clay Corn.
Increasing the jail’s maximum capacity from 267 inmates to 400, coupled with a new dorm for females, will give jail officials more options, Corn said.
The five Chaves County commissioners toured the jail Friday morning amid a $15.1 million renovation project expected to be completed in August 2015.
Project superintendent Raul Perea of Bradbury Stamm Construction of Albuquerque said the challenge is keeping the jail operational during the extensive interior and exterior renovations.
“This is a running facility, 24/7,” Perea told the county commissioners and a handful of other county leaders who, Friday morning, officially toured the jail at 3701 S. Atkinson Ave. for the first time since construction began in earnest in January.
“Everybody has a role in the success of this project,” Perea said.
Perea said keeping the jail’s master control area running during interior reconstruction will likely be the toughest part of the project. Perea said it’s taken eight months of planning to prepare for the interior reconstruction that will take 2½ months to complete. The reconstruction will double or triple the size of the master control area, Perea said.
Corn said the jail’s current population is about 280 inmates, about 50 of which are female. He said a new 40-bed pod for women, in addition to the current women’s pod, will double the jail’s capacity to house women and give him more options.
“Sometimes, it’s a chess match,” Corn said, “and we have to make moves every day to accommodate the female population.”
Asked where he houses female inmates when in a pinch, Corn said “any place but the male units.”
Corn said things have changed since the jail opened in 1996, replacing the former adult jail at the Chaves County courthouse.
“It’s a statewide trend, without a doubt,” Corn said of growing female inmate populations.
Segregating inmates is another constant issue, Corn said.
The jail’s current population consists of about a dozen inmates who are charged with murder or attempted murder. Some inmates have to be segregated from others for their own safety, Corn said.
Corn said once the renovation project is complete, the jail will be able to house up to 400 inmates, “about 375 comfortably,” he said.
“We hope we don’t get to 400, because if we do, we’re back right to where we started,” Corn said. “But if you build it, they will come.”
Corn said the jail was built to house 237 inmates and has a maximum capacity of 267 inmates. He said the jail has been averaging about 300 inmates for a year or so, and spiked at about 340 inmates in December and January. Cots are utilized when all the beds are taken.
Jail leaders had to move inmates to other facilties because of the wintertime overcrowding, Corn said.
“It was the first time in a number of years we had to ship out inmates to another facility temporarily until our population went back down,” Corn said, adding no overcrowding lawsuits were filed.
A new feature at the jail, designed by ASA Architects of Roswell, is a video visitation building where family and friends of inmates can go to teleconference with inmates.
Inmates will be able to go to pods, put on headphones and see visitors in the video visitation building via a video feed.
The new building, slated to open Oct. 1, will help minimize the movement of prisoners since they will no longer have to be transported to the visitation area to meet with visitors.
“Less movement is more safety for the inmate and the officer,” said County Manager Stanton Riggs.
Face-to-face meetings between attorneys and inmates will continue to take place elsewhere.
Riggs has said another goal is to arrange off-site areas where families can visit inmates who have earned the privilege with good behavior.
Another new feature is an outdoor break area for jail staff. Corn said allowing staff to smoke on the premises will enhance security since staff will not have to go to their personal vehicles outside the fence line for a smoke break.
Corn said the future outdoor break area will likely be a popular feature for jail staff.
“That’s one of the things we’re happiest with,” Corn said.
The jail’s medical wing and mental health infirmary are also being dramatically expanded due to more inmates having substance abuse and other mental health issues.
Public Services Director Sonny Chancey said county leaders are pleased with the quality of work performed by the jail’s contractor.
“Bradbury Stamm is an excellent contractor,” Chancey said. “They’ve been doing us a very good job.”
“We appreciate the time and attention to detail that you’re putting toward this project,” said Commissioner Greg Nibert.
Commissioner Kyle “Smiley” Wooton commended Bradbury Stamm for its mentorship program that afforded a local high school student an opportunity for on-the-job training.
“That’s very impressive,” Wooten said. “They are the future leaders.”
The $15.1 million project is being funded by a $5 million loan from the New Mexico Finance Authority and $10 million of county funds.
Staff Writer Jeff Tucker can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 303, or email@example.com.